This is the introduction to a series of articles we are posting here to help mentors and high school kids study and understand the Federalist Papers. In this series we give a summary of the arguments that Hamilton, Madison, and Jay were making in each specific Paper. Next we quote specific passages from the Federalist. Then we ask questions of the student about the passage to help them think critically and apply the Federalist to their own day. This series is appropriate for teens, especially juniors and seniors in high school, as well as college level students and adults of all ages.
All of the Federalist Papers we provide study guides for in this series can be found in Selected Federalist Papers from Dover Publishers. We highly recommend that each student be given his or her own copy of this inexpensive book to highlight, write in the margins, add post-it notes to and then keep.
Why Read the Federalist Papers?
The Federalist Papers are important to an understanding of the Constitution for today as much as when they were first written in 1787 and 1788. They were originally written to convince the people of New York that adopting the Constitution was in their interest and a thing to be desired.
It took the ratification of nine states in order to make the Constitution the law of the land for any states. New York was a state divided. The vote could have gone either way. And so the essays, or “papers” were arguments directed toward New York. If New York could be convinced then Virginia would almost certainly go along and those two states along with the seven others that had already ratified would make the Constitution the law.
Alexander Hamilton, fearing the Constitution, and therefore the Union, would fail if it were not passed, decided to make the case for the Constitution, to explain what it said, and what it meant. He proposed to write four essays a week to be published in New York papers. But he also had a full time job to pay the bills and so he needed some help to get the argument out there in time for the state to vote from an informed position. He asked James Madison, one of the main architects of the Constitution, and John Jay, a respected lawyer and foreign policy expert, to help him. Between them they wrote 85 essays over a period of seven months.
The essays were published anonymously under the name “Publius”. Throughout this series we refer to the author as “Publius”.
Hamilton, Madison, and Jay were all at the Constitutional Convention and they used the notes from the Convention to base their arguments on. The Constitution was ratified on the understanding given by these Federalist Papers. And so it can be concluded that the understanding of the Constitution as presented in the Federalist Papers is the proper understanding of the Constitution as it was “ordained and established” by the people of the United States of America. Modern understanding of the Constitution is also therefore based on the Federalist Papers as well.
How To Use This Guide To The Federalist Papers
This series will focus on the Federalist Papers most relevant to today’s application of the Constitution in our lives. But we encourage students to read all of them, or at least all of those presented in Selected Federalist Papers from Dover. Some that don’t seem relevant right now may become relevant as political winds shift or as the circumstances of the United States or its people change.
As they read, students should have a highlighter and pen on hand to mark passages and make notes in the margins of their copy of the Federalist Papers. They can keep and refer to their annotated copy throughout their lives.
Each lesson discusses a different Federalist Paper.
- Students read the Paper for themselves and highlight things that stand out to them. They should take notes directly in their copy of the Federalist Papers as well.
- Students and a mentor get together and discuss the Federalist Paper using the quotes supplied in the study guide and also the things the students highlighted and noted for themselves.
- Students should respond to at least some of the discussion by writing more extensive thoughts on a Post-it note or trimmed down paper, which will then be stuck in their copy of the Federalist Papers in the relevant location. Students for whom a discussion group is not convenient can skip to writing their own thoughts and research in notes pasted into their books.
Federalist Paper Guides by Number
Click on each of the images, which show the number of the Federalist Paper under discussion, to go to the free guide for that Paper.